This was our first cruise and many commented that we had certainly jumped in at the deep end, however, we were not alone it seemed. Quite a few people had been attracted by the amazing cruise itinerary......The Amazon and the West Indies and a few more places thrown in for good measure !!!
To be honest, we had no intention of going on a cruise but at the price this trip was offered at it was just too good to refuse. We booked a basic inside cabin and I think we were upgraded to a "standard plus". I won't say what we paid but it was an unbelievably good bargain as far as we were concerned but I do know many people paid a lot more than we did and for the extra all they got was, in our opinion anyway, a slightly better cabin in as much as a little bit more room and possibly windows too. Both we felt we didn't need.
Having booked the holiday, I then started gleaning as much information about the trip as possible and soon realised the Marco Polo certainly seems to polarise opinions so here's mine !
The first thing is to consider where the trip is going to before choosing a cabin. On cold weather trips being over the kitchens might be advantageous, on warm ones probably not. Certainly being under the rear deck is one to avoid during warm weather as the noise from above must be awful when they move tables and chairs around at the crack of dawn and very late at night. Anywhere near the show lounge would probably be intolerable of those who go to bed before 11.00pm We hadn't thought about any of these things so it was by good luck our cabin was well placed and, in our opinion , perfectly adequate for our needs. We were amazed how all our luggage vanished in to drawers,wardrobes and under the bed.
We had read criticisms about staff and we found them largely totally unfounded. The majority were hardworking and attentive although there are always the odd exceptions to the rule. I thought the crew in general were overworked and underpaid. I don't understand why tips are added to the bill , why not increase the fares paid and increase wages ? I don't like the fact that tips can be reduced either because it means that they are either being withheld or being unfairly handed out to the people who you have come in to most contact with meaning that if tips are seen as part of the wage packet, some crew members receive less than others.
We found the food on the boat to be very good, judging by the amounts people were eating it couldn't be that bad ! Served meals in the Waldorf were pleasant, the self service Bistro is a bit canteen like for our liking but it does offer the opportunity to eat outside on the rear deck when weather permits. We chose a table for eight in the Waldorf and were fortunate to share with likeminded guests, 6 weeks of the same could have been trying had we not been lucky. Breakfast and lunch tables are allocated as you arrive so you get to meet different people each meal time which I found interesting as you shared your experiences.
The ships dress code is not strictly adhered to. I chose a dinner jacket for formal nights but I'd say just as many wore suits. Informal nights suggest you wear a jacket but once the weather got warmer the majority of men abandoned the idea, myself included. I did speak to one lady who thought it was outrageous that men were allowed in to the Waldorf in such a state of undress, after all one of the reasons she booked the Marco Polo was because of the dress code. Of course she made no mention that 1) the alternative Bistro was closed because of norovirus and 2) ladies can choose to wear very lightweight sleeveless dresses. It ain't fair!
Generally speaking I thought the ship was much better in appearance than I had expected. I thought the public areas were well appointed and actually, quite smart. Not tired as described by some.The outside wooden decks have a nice traditional feel but there isn't a huge amount of space when the weather gets nice. Sunbeds are at a premium and certainly, the uppermost sun lounge deck was not to our liking at all with no space between loungers to speak of, instead we chose to sit in a chair where ever a little space between other people was possible. I guess this is something that might be common to all cruises. One or two previous reports have made mention of soot being deposited on the decks. It happened again during our cruise and I have to say, on occasion was so thick it could and had to be brushed away each evening. On the last night of our trip to the West Indies, the party on the rear deck was cancelled as there were red hot lumps of burning soot landing on the decks. It was more like a firework display. I do wonder if the many coughs that people were suffering was in any way linked. I do know that clothes were actually getting ruined by sitting on sooty chairs and this situation needs some urgent attention.( Again, are you listening management?)
The entertainment during the days was of no interest to me, I wanted to be outside so I can't really comment. I attended a few lectures which were of a very variable standard from poor to excellent and judging from the numbers falling asleep, even mid morning, I think my opinion was widely echoed !
Some things like the daily quizzes and the choir were very well attended, others not so much. The only one I tried was tossing bean bags in to a waste paper bin which , having been decried as "Butlins like" by an earlier poster, I have to take exception. It's damned difficult, much harder than darts !
The evening entertainment was again variable. The song and dance routines were very good but towards the end they started to be a little repetitive just because it was the same team. On some evenings they showed a film but the choice seemed rather odd, mostly children's films for an audience of pensioners. Apparently one film only had four people watching !
Our cruise itinerary was very good indeed and most stops were well planned. Arriving early, leaving late thus offering maximum time in port.There were a couple of exceptions, I don't know why Madeira was only a half day stop. Faial in the Azores became a full day to avoid a storm, why wasn't it always planned as such ?
The visit to Ille du Salut was for most the best stop of the lot. The visit there should certainly be extended, this was a tendered stop and, as happens, these stops can be abandoned if the swell is too big. We were lucky that our stop went ahead despite the sea being quite rough.Take note if you are planning a cruise anywhere where the likely hood of poor weather can effect your stops.
Organised trips in the ports of call were in my opinion, poor value for money. The one lesson I soon learnt was to DIY your own. Not everyone feels comfortable doing so but for us it's the only way. Not only do you usually save money, you get your own tailor made trip without being part of a crowd.
I have to say though, the Marco Polo trips we went on were well organised but, particularly if you are wildlife watching, overcrowded and noisy due to the number of people involved. I was also surprised that no one asked for opinions about the trips and it also seems that no one attempts to improve them from one year to the next. Another example of no one listening as far as the cruise management is concerned.
Talking of management, that's where my huge negative comes in to play.I thought they were awful.
I soon discovered that the boat is leased, crew and all, by Cruise and Maritime who also appear to have some of their own staff on board. Don't ask me who is employed by who because it's not always obvious. I am not sure what the roles the Cruise and Maritime staff are supposed to carry out either so perhaps my criticism is unfair but again, maybe it's the fault of management in the constant failure to communicate.
Some people criticised the fact the ship's Captain rarely spoke over the public address system Personally I don't care. We had announcements made each day on his behalf to tell us were we were and what were the available daily activities. These were made by the Cruise Director who also introduced and closed some of the entertainments in a rather unctuous Hughie Green style but was otherwise hardly seen. We had the Guest Service Manager give us daily updates on the state of the norovirus outbreak but information was limited to wether restrictions had stayed in place, and reminders about hygiene standards that should be maintained. Never were we told the scale of the problem, how many new cases there were daily and wether there were both crew and guests involved. Most importantly too, we were never told why certain things were no longer in operation. Perhaps if this had been communicated there would be less scepticism. The outbreak of norovirus seems to be something that happens regularly and not just on cruise ships and in fairness, the crew worked extremely hard to control it. They were let down by both guests and crew members who simply flouted requests to sanitise their hands. I reminded one passenger reboarding the boat and someone else remarked to the security guard scanning their pass that the four crew members in front of them hadn't sanitised either. He simply smiled.A report of the incident was made at reception but to my knowledge it was not responded to.
There seemed to be little sense in some of the decisions made. Why abandon the leather bound menus in the Waldorf , issuing instead disposable ones, when on a daily basis, at choir practice the music sheets were handed out and handed back again for future use ? Why close down the card room and library use ? Fine, don't lend books and cards but a chair is a chair no matter where it is. Why shut the table tennis room if you have your own bat and ball ? How come deck quoits was still going on ? The list of inconsistencies goes on and on but again lack of communication didn't help passenger disgruntlement. As a token of good will all passengers received a £75 reduction on our individual bar bills and a 25% discount of a future cruise but you had to book within 6 weeks to claim the latter. I'm not sure if that would be considered a fair settlement by most. Personally I was happy enough but as previously stated I paid a bargain price for my cruise. Someone who had paid several thousand more might disagree. I didn't use any of the withdrawn amenities anyway, the only exception being the Bistro. It must have been unavailable for 50% of the trip or three weeks in real terms. This coincided with much of the warmer weather and eating outside would have been an attractive proposition. The other effect of withdrawing the Bistro was to add pressure on the Waldorf. Queuing was the order of the day both at breakfast and lunchtimes. For us it meant foregoing lunch and getting up early. No bad thing really as over indulging is easy when you can have three meals plus high tea ( which we also avoided because of the queue.) It was a long wait between meals though, especially for an 8.15pm dinner.
My opinion of the ship's management didn't improve during our horrible storm experience either. For those who were in their cabins, as instructed by the management , there was virtually no communication at all. No reassurances, nothing other than warnings to sit on the floor as we were about to undertake a very difficult manoeuvre. We only learnt of the tragic event that led to the death of a passenger by watching the TV news, and later by ship's gossip. Once again, I thought it was in hugely bad taste that no mention, no offers of condolence on behalf of management and guests alike was made. No, it as business as usual the following day, albeit an announcement that entertainments were limite . Appalling.
There will in due course be a full investigation in to the events that led up to that fateful accident and I trust the truth will be revealed.
Finally you might ask, would I recommend the ship and in particularly this cruise ?
I think the ship has it's own charm and it exceeded my expectations which were lower as a result of reading the negatives made by previous guests here on Cruise Critic. I guess it's the equivalent of choosing between a veteran car and a modern one. For some, the charm of a past age is irresistible, for others the lack of more modern amenities is a definite negative. Personally, I like the ship. Sort out the soot and get better senior managers who communicate properly with their guests and you have solved most problems.
As for the 42 night Amazon cruise, well you can make your own mind up. I am glad we did it but I probably wouldn't do it again even though there would be a temptation to do it a second time having learnt from the first ! Again, shame the management don't try to tweak the trip to improve on the shortcomings.
I suppose, like so many, the Amazon didn't deliver on the image I imagined prior to embarking. The rain forest image didn't materialise. The reality is we never really ventured very far from the main river but that in itself is a remarkable journey which takes you nearly a 1000 miles from the sea. All the other ports of call lived up to expectation, mainly because I didn't expect too much ! The sea days were a bit of a trial, especially on the return journey with so little to look forward to compared to the outward one when gradually the weather got warmer and the destinations arrived at. Again, with no previous experience, I was naive, we did after all travel nearly 120000 remarkable miles. Just being in the middle of the Atlantic and witnessing first hand this huge wilderness is something not many people have done.
Go ahead, give it a try. Along with some memories there is also the strong likelihood you will make some new friends for life.